As a society, we’re generally driven by consumerism and marketing. Every purchase decision we make is a subconscious part of our brain choosing a shiny label, or target phrases like “organic” or “grain-free.” Our pets may not need cheese-flavored treats, but our hearts tell us that the happy puppy on the front of the package is how our dog needs to be, so we cave in and buy them, plus it was on sale! Maybe other people are better about this than I am, but I know when I’m in the pet store, I always leave with some extra treats that my obese-prone beagle definitely doesn’t need.
This is because pet food companies are extremely good at their job of getting their food sold. I know that I’ve been blown away by some of the pet food myths that I’ve become accustomed to, so I can’t imagine what the general public must think. I took this rotation because on a daily basis in general practice, we’ll get asked about what’s a good food brand, or what brands to avoid, and the truth is, it’s hard to know sometimes. Here’s a few helpful hints and truths about pet food that I’ve learned so far.
- Look on your pet food package for a statement that says the nutritional formulation meets AAFCO standards. Even better, a statement saying that the food has been through a food test/trial is excellent and means the food is proven to work!
- By-products come in many forms and are not a bad thing. In fact, most of what is in by-products can be very nutritious! See the following AAFCO guidelines for more information: http://www.aafco.org/Consumers/What-is-in-Pet-Food
- Corn is not a filler! It actually contains an amazing amount of nutrients, such as protein from corn gluten, natural antioxidants, and fatty acids.
- Pet food manufacturers will try using many words that bring consumers in. For example, in the human world the gluten-free craze is rampant, and it’s spilling into the pet food world without any scientific evidence to justify that wheat gluten is bad for dogs and cats. My favorite is using the word “holistic,” as there is no current definition in the pet food industry, so literally any company could put it on their bag. Anyone paying extra for holistic pet food, I’m sorry to say that you’re being ripped off.
- Any pet food company should be able to answer questions for you about whether they have a veterinary nutritionist, what their quality control is like, where their food is processed, etc., and if they can’t then maybe you should switch your pet food brand. Go and do some personal investigating and look on the pet food websites to find out who owns what, where the companies are — you should always be able to find out that information, though it may surprise and even scare you!
Those are my fun facts for the day. Hopefully I’ll have more to share. Just a vet student here trying to pass some nutrition education into the community.